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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Air Force Special Weapons Center (1952-1976)

The Special Weapons Command was created to direct specialized organizations dealing with atomic and other unconventional weapons. Because much of the work involved research and development, the command was eventually absorbed by the Air Research and Development Command. It was established as Special Weapons Command, a major command, on 01 December 1949. It was redesignated Air Force Special Weapons Center assigned to Air Research and Development Command on 01 April 1952, losing major command status, and inactivated on 01 April 1976.

From the early years of Cold War, the need to test and evaluate supersonic aircraft technologies, associated munitions, and eventually space systems, required the Air Force to build specialized ground test facilities. As nuclear weapons and electronics became more a part of air power, two new locations for Test and Evaluation (T&E) were created. The Special Weapons Center (SWC) at Kirtland AFB, NM concentrated on the technologies supporting nuclear weapons development. Hanscom Field, MA concentrated on new levels of sophistication in electronics and avionics development. However, both locations were closed for testing in the late 1970s because the Air Force felt that limited R&D dollars were better spent on technology than on infrastructure.

One aspect of the testing environment involves the features a particular location might offer that could help (or hinder) testing of weapons such as supersonic aircraft technologies, associated munitions, and space systems. For example, the Special Weapons Center was established at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico because of the concentration of technologies and industries supporting nuclear weapons development in the region.

In December 1949 Kirtland Air Force Base became headquarters for the newly-created Special Weapons Command with Col. Howard G. Bunker as commander. The nucleus of this organization was composed of the pioneering Air Force agencies which had located there to determine future employment of nuclear weapons.

The command became the Air Force Special Weapons Center on 01 April 1952, and was a unit of the Air Research and Development Command. During the 1950s, Center people and aircraft participated in atmospheric nuclear tests in Nevada and the far Pacific. The first Air Force scientific capabilities at the base were created during the mid 1950s. Biophysicists deliberately flew through nuclear clouds to determine radiation hazards. And engineers launched sounding rockets so physicists could study the effects of high-altitude nuclear explosions and the nature of the recently discovered Van Allen radiation belts around the Earth.

In 1958 Special Weapons Center scientists began to simulate the effects of nuclear explosions in order to strengthen our missiles, missile sites and aircraft against possible enemy attack. It was in 1958 that a nuclear effects simulator was first constructed in an abandoned dining hall at Kirtland.

In the wake of the signing of the test ban treaty, in 1963 the Air Force Weapons Laboratory was created from the Research Directorate elements of the Special Weapons Center. The Special Weapons Center gave up much of its research and development work to the newly created Air Force Weapons Laboratory. The Center continued with its test and evaluation mission and as Kirtland's host organization. The Weapons Laboratory built facilities during the 1960s to simulate nuclear effects such as transient radiation, X-rays, and electromagnetic pulse.

The Special Weapons Center took over management of Air Force Systems Command's test and evaluation facilities at Holloman AFB near Alamogordo, New Mexico, during the summer of 1970. And, just one year later on 01 July 1971, Kirtland merged with Manzano and Sandia Base, its neighbors to the east, creating the sprawling military complex known as Kirtland AFB. The center then began providing base support services and continued to do so for the next five years, while Field Command, Defense Nuclear Agency, became a major base tenant rather than the base host organization.

Because of budget restrictions and the need to save money, the Air Force Special Weapons Center was disestablished on 01 April 1976. In 1976 AFSWC was closed and OPR functions came to the AFWL. Special Weapons Center's responsibilities as Kirtland's "landlord" were also transferred to the Air Force Contract Management Division on the same day.




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